Christopher Columbus, in his Journal of the First Voyage published in 1492, describes the first contact with the indigenous people of the New World. Despite describing a friendly people interested in trade and the Catholic religion, Columbus proposed bringing several back to Spain to learn Spanish language and culture. The first requirement to meet the criteria of genocide is intent to destroy a group, and Columbus does mention in a cavalier way how he could control them or kill them. The second physical element of genocide was met by action including killing members of the group and deliberately inflicting conditions of life calculated to bring about its destruction. As Columbus says, “I could conquer the whole of them with fifty men”. Columbus is therefore guilty given contemporary legal definitions of genocide.
Bartolomé de las Casas’s “The Destruction of the Amerindians” describes an opinionated perspective of the Spanish activity in the New World. The Spanish definitely meet the physical criteria of genocide in de las Casa’s essay, given their destruction of life and property. As de las Casa describes it, “Spaniards first assaulted the innocent Sheep, so qualified by the Almighty, as is premention’d, like most cruel Tygers, Wolves and Lions hunger-starv’d, studying nothing, for the space of Forty Years, after their first landing”. The mental element of genocide was therefore met in terms of Spaniard crimes in de las Casa’s recounting of the Spanish blood thirst.
Thomas Harriot, in his A brief and true report of the new found land of Virginia published in 1588 describes the situation of settlers in the new colony in what would become America. Harriot makes clear that he considers the local Indians to be inferior to the British settlers, but if the integral criterion is the intent to destroy a people, then this condition was not met. The approach he supported is summarized when Harriot says “because we sought by all means possible to win them over by gentleness”.
The second, physical element of genocide was not met, at least not by Harriot’s actions. The context which he discusses is however one of the Indians speaking of future destruction at the hands of the settlers who come after. Harriot should still be considered innocent of genocide, as there was no intent, only hearing a prophecy regarding tragedies to come for Native people due to settlers. Harriot is therefore innocent.